MY PASTOR PREACHED A TOUGH SERMON about the Bible yesterday. At least I think it would have been a tough sermon to prep for. It certainly took courage to speak the words. I have no doubt about that.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks left the church in objection to what he said.
He dealt with some of those tough, “God-is-mean” Old Testament passages that most preachers skip.
Like the time Joshua told the Jews:
“Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the LORD” (Joshua 6:17).
The scholar tech word for “completely destroyed” is herem (Hebrew), which is often translated as “ban,” meaning it’s banned for humans and reserved for God.
Here’s how I understood the pastor’s take on passages like these. They reflect less about God than they do about the culture and the people of the day.
For example, the Moabite Stone, an ancient inscription from what is now the Arab country of Jordan, says another warrior did much the same thing for his god:
“Kemosh [a god] said to me, ‘Go, take Nebo [a city] from Israel,” so I went by night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, and I took it and slew all, 7,000 male citizens and foreign men 7,000 men, female citizens, foreign women and female slaves. For Kemosh I put it to the ban.” Mesha, about 840 BC
That word “ban” means the same thing as the Bible’s phrase “completely destroyed.” The victims were sacrificed as offerings to a god.
So as the pastor reads the Jericho story, the anonymous writer of Joshua may have been presuming God’s backing because what Joshua did was customary at that time in history. And if God had opposed the idea, he would have vetoed it and stopped Joshua—since God controls everything. (That’s one reason, by the way, that Job’s friends presumed he sinned up a storm since he was reaping a whirlwind of misery.)
My pastor says he filters all the stories of the Old Testament through the revelation of God that we have in the life and teachings of Jesus. And as far as he’s concerned, the idea of killing men, women, and children isn’t something that fits neatly into Jesus’ call to disarm: “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
What do you think about this?
My pastor’s sermon should be posted online sometime this week. I’d be happy to share the link in a comment box below, if anyone would like to see it.